Q: My sister and I run a design business. We use QuickBooks for most of our business needs, but the thing is, we are not sure what else we should be using. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Leslie, New Jersey

Part 1 of 2

A: Your question reminds me of one of my favorite Dave Barry quotes: “Buying the right computer and getting it to work properly is no more complicated than building a nuclear reactor from wristwatch parts in a darkened room using only your teeth.”

Yes, I sympathize. The point of software is to make your business more effective. It is supposed to save you time and make things run more smoothly, although we all know that is not always the case. What I would like to do this week and next is to give you an idea of what software your small business really needs and the options available. Of course it would be impossible to analyze every product available. What I want to do instead is give you an idea about which products are the market leaders and how these leaders compare.

OFFICE SUITES: A good office suite allows you to create documents and spreadsheets, produce marketing materials, manage email and contacts, and much more. As your office suite usually becomes your basic, essential daily tool for organizing and running your business, this is not a place to skimp.

  • Microsoft Office Small Business Edition:
    Office Small Business is a bundle of essential programs: Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), Outlook (contacts, calendar, and email), and Publisher (graphics.) It also now comes with PowerPoint (presentations), and a new product called Business Contact Manager which allows you to track leads.
  • Corel WordPerfect Office: This program comes with WordPerfect (word processing), Quattro Pro (spreadsheets), Corel Presentations (presentations) and Corel Central (appointments and email). The question really is whether you want to work in a Microsoft environment or a Corel environment.
  • Microsoft Works: This is a program designed for home and student use since most businesses will need Excel and PowerPoint, and Works does not come with those. However, for a small home-based business, Works may do the trick, and it’s hard to beat the price (about $100.)

CONTACT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE: Contact management software is intended to keep track of clients, leads and prospects and help you turn those leads into customers. It can really help the right kind of small business.

  • ACT!: Like other similar programs, ACT (which has been around for quite some time) allows you to manage contact information in one place, including name, business name, phone numbers, addresses, etc.; manage leads, customers, and vendors; track each relationship; and create sales forecasting models.
  • Goldmine: Another granddaddy in this field, Goldmine is a popular choice. Its interface is similar to Microsoft Outlook, with taskbar and menu options, including the ability to create custom taskbars. The program easily integrates with Outlook, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, and Lotus CC:Mail. GoldMine’s contact management tools are powerful.
  • Microsoft Business Contact Manager: As mentioned, BCM allows you to manage your customer and sales opportunities very efficiently.

ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE: A good accounting software program is probably a must for a small business with employees. If your small business is just you, you can probably get by with a basic money management program like Quicken. But if
your business is bigger, or is going to get bigger, then a program like the ones listed below is required.

All of these programs offer similar tools – budgeting, accounts receivable management, payroll, inventory control, and so on. The key then is to find a program that offers the extra bells and whistles you want and the functionality you like.

  • QuickBooks: QuickBooks is the standard in the field. It has an easy-to-use, intuitive interface and powerful tools which should please both the new and seasoned entrepreneur alike. Sure it handles all of your basic accounting needs, but it also has more sophisticated functions like loan management, cash flow forecasting, tracking of fixed assets, and vehicle mileage tracking.
  • Peachtree Complete Accounting: Peachtree is another solid choice. It is especially good at handling e-commerce, and has a host of usable financial features. Some of the best options are the inventory control function that lets you track product based on size or color, and the Daily Register Report, which is a snapshot of your daily activity.
  • MYOB Plus: This is a simpler, less expensive program which does not offer advanced options like cash flow projections. The newer versions of this product allow you to process credit card payments and direct deposit paychecks into employee accounts.
  • Simply Accounting: This program is easy to use and inexpensive. It is good for the small business that has basic accounting needs and has a tight budget.

Next week: Looking at business planning, anti-virus, and e-commerce software.

Today’s tip:
How do you know where to find the next great opportunity? As hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “Go to where the puck is going, not where it is.”

Sorting Out The Best Productivity Software

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